Systems & Habits, the 2 Halves of Organizing

Systems & Habits, the 2 Halves of Organizing
One of the most jarring realizations many people have as they work to get organized is that the process involves not just systems--weeding out what's not needed and then creating effective storage for the stuff that is--but also the development of habits that will keep those systems running smoothly and working like they should over the long term.

Finding the perfect sheets and comforter for your bed doesn't preclude making the bed each morning, and working with a personal trainer to develop a customized exercise plan doesn't mean you don't actually have to get yourself to the gym on a regular basis. By the same token, even the greatest organizing system will fall apart--quickly--if you don't get in the habit of using and maintaining it.

Here's a look at three common types of organizing systems, along with some basic maintenance habits, to get you thinking about organization as a two-part process.

System #1: Mail Processing System--those baskets, letter sorters, inboxes, or other containers you've labeled and placed near the door to collect mail that arrives.


  • Get rid of the junk immediately. Rather than letting pieces of mail you know you don't want (such as store flyers, credit card offers, and unsolicited catalogs) to clog your system, recycle or shred it ASAP.
  • Schedule time to go through what accumulates. Losing bills and other important mail because they linger forgotten in your mail processing system is no different from (and no better than) forgetting them because they're in a pile on your desk. Take a few minutes at least once a week to look through and deal with the mail that's come in.

System #2: Clothes Closet System--that neat setup with rods, drawers, and other clothes-organizing gadgetry.


  • Remove dry cleaner bags. These are notorious for causing clutter, trapping moisture on clothes, and making it hard to see what's what. Keep a few around for storing clothes in when you travel if you'd like, and bring the rest back to your cleaner for recycling.
  • Put stuff away at least three times a week. Too zonked to hang up or fold and stash your clothes at the end of the day? Cut yourself some slack, but do make it a habit to get things back where they belong every other day.
  • Cycle out seasonal clothes. Spare yourself from wading through shorts and sundresses to get to your winter-weight pants by moving out-of-season clothing to the back of the closet or into storage elsewhere.

System #3: Time Management System--your calendar (whether paper or electronic) and list of tasks and priorities.


  • Review it daily. One of the main purposes of a time management system is to remind you of what you need to do each day and when you need to do it. Let your system do its job by taking a look at it first thing in the morning to see what's ahead.
  • Update it constantly. Whenever you (or someone else whose activities you're tracking, like a partner or child) commit to something scheduled, add it to your calendar pronto to prevent double-booking, missed appointments, and the like.
  • Keep it uncluttered. Have a task list that's longer than your arm? Take a close look at it and move to another list anything that's not really a task (such as notes, addresses, and other data), or that you don't need to think about or focus on this week.

You get the picture: every organizing system you have in your home or office, from the utensil drawer in the kitchen to the filing system at work to the shelves holding tools and sports gear in the garage, requires some essential maintenance habits to keep it working like it should.

This week, give some thought to the habits you can put in place to keep your systems free of clutter and running smoothly, and then challenge yourself to adopt a few of these habits by the end of the month.

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This content was written by Emily Wilska. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Kelly Jayne McCann for details.